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The True Cost of
by William Norman Grigg
A growing movement is calling for the payment of reparations to black Americans for slavery, despite the fact that both the victims and perpetrators of slavery are dead.
Although there are many compelling reasons to believe that the first U.S. Civil War was not about slavery, there are just as many sound reasons to fear that the next civil war will be fought over the issue of "reparations" for slavery. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations (N'COBRA), a pressure group with dozens of chapters across the country, has set the reparations price tag at $8 trillion to be paid out not only in direct transfers of wealth, but also in radical changes to our legal system and culture intended to redress supposed structural "inequities" in our society.
According to the most recent census, there are more than 281,000,000 Americans. Not a single one of us has been or owned a chattel slave except, perhaps, for a few individuals who recently arrived from Sudan or other nations in which the odious practice persists. Nonetheless, a large and growing movement has been created to demand that some Americans be designated "beneficiaries" of slavery, and as such be required to pay "slavery reparations" to black Americans. This proposal is rooted in a despicable doctrine condemned in the U.S. Constitution "corruption of blood," the notion that a criminal's blood kindred and descendants share in his guilt.
Although the "slavery reparations" movement has been percolating on the revolutionary left for decades, it has recently received support from "mainstream" political leaders, and has been embraced by a "Dream Team" of attorneys skilled in the arts of class-action litigation. But while advocates of reparations are seeking to recruit support from black Americans with promises of a lucrative payoff, the chances of a grand monetary settlement are quite remote. It is much more likely that the movement will produce a generous enrichment of entitlement programs and a growing sense of racial antagonism among Americans. Indeed, some advocates of reparations, including members of N'COBRA, have embraced the old Soviet-promoted concept of a separate black nation within the boundaries of the United States.
"The future of race relations," insists Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), "will be determined by reparations for slavery." A bill that would underwrite a "study" of slavery reparations has been introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) at the beginning of every congressional term since 1989. The intellectual case for reparations such as it is has been sketched out by Randall Robinson, the founder of the think-tank TransAfrica, in his recent book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.
Re-creating a pattern that was visible in recent class-action lawsuits against the tobacco industry and the firearms industry, politicians in major cities have signaled their willingness to cooperate with the campaign for reparations. Civic governments in Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, and a half-dozen other cities have all endorsed "restitution" payments to black Americans. "There's not enough money in this world that would be satisfactory, but there should be something," asserted Chicago Alderman Carrie Austin during a City Council debate over a pro-reparations resolution. Following passage of the Chicago resolution by a 46-1 vote, Mayor Richard Daley declared: "It's about time that America does this."
A potential precedent for race reparations was set last February in Oklahoma when the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, an 11-member panel established by the state legislature in 1997, voted to pay restitution to survivors of a 1921 riot in the city's Greenwood district. As described by the Commission's report, the May 31, 1921 riot began after a black teenager named Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting a white woman who ran a local elevator. Fearing that Rowland might be lynched, a crowd of black residents gathered outside the county courthouse. A fight erupted outside the building between black and white residents, which turned into an all-night riot. By the time the National Guard imposed martial law several hours later, more than 1,000 homes, as well as 35 grocery stores, eight doctors' offices, and five hotels in the Greenwood district known as the "Negro Wall Street of America" had been destroyed. About 300 people were killed, most of them black.
About 80 survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot, all of them between 80 and 90 years of age, continue to live in the city. The Riot Commission endorsed payments of at least $20,000 to each of them, or to their descendants. Thus this proposal is based upon two very dubious assumptions that are central to the slavery reparations demand first, that innocent contemporary citizens can be required to indemnify misdeeds committed by others long ago; and second, that favored individuals can be designated "victims" because of wrongs inflicted upon their ancestors, and receive monetary compensation for their "victimhood."
The California Front
It is in California that the reparations movement has established its firmest beach head, thanks in large measure to state senator Tom Hayden a former leader of the radical socialist group Students for a Democratic Society, the man hailed by the 1960s New Left as "our Lenin." Last October Governor Gray Davis signed into law two measures sponsored by Hayden the "Slaveholder Insurance Policies Bill," and the "Slavery Colloquium Bill" both of which went into effect January 1st. The first authorizes state insurance commissioner Harry Low to obtain from all insurance companies doing business in California any records of slaveholder insurance policies issued by their corporate antecedents before 1865. The second measure provided funding for the University of California to conduct a research conference for the purpose of analyzing "the economic value of slaves in building this country." Both measures were energetically supported by Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The Chicago Tribune described the Hayden-sponsored acts as "a new front in the national debate over reparations for slavery," a characterization the veteran radical heartily supports. "This may be seen as a prelude to reparations," commented Hayden following the signing ceremony last October. ABC News pointed out that the measures are likely to result in "compulsory hearings to determine if [insurance companies] should make reparations possibly worth millions of dollars to black slaves' descendants."
Of course, the costs of such payouts would be passed along not only to those who pay premiums to the affected insurance companies, but eventually to taxpayers as well, if the reparations lobby's strategy pays off. "California is taking a big step," commented Kalonji Olusegun, treasurer of N'COBRA. "The older and more established corporations are more likely to have earned initial funds from the enslavement of Africans. If we put pressure on the corporations, they'll put pressure on the federal government." And of course, with federal involvement will come the potential of a vast redistribution of wealth in the form of "payback" to the supposed victims of the long-dead institution of chattel slavery.
"Ever since I worked as a civil rights worker in Mississippi and Georgia [in the 1960s], I wondered who had profited from slavery and where the money went," explained Hayden. "What these laws will do is give us an answer on how much of the American economy ¸ came from slavery." According to Hayden, "centuries of slavery subsidized business formation and growth" in early America. The information compiled through the Slaveholders Insurance Policies act will provide an irresistible target for litigation. And the Slavery Colloquium act will subsidize an effort by radical academics to create estimates of the amount "owed" to blacks.
Enter the Litigators
Just weeks after Gov. Davis signed the two reparations-related bills, an elite corps of litigators announced the creation of the "Reparations Assessment Group" (RAG), which will explore various strategies to mount a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of the purported contemporary victims of slavery.
Organized by radical Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree, RAG's membership includes several gifted legal alchemists who have transmuted seemingly base claims into golden settlements:
Alexander J. Pires Jr., who won a $1 billion settlement for black farmers who brought a discrimination complaint against the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
Richard Scruggs, the chief architect of the $368.5 billion tobacco settlement;
Dennis C. Sweet III, who won a $400 million settlement in the "phen-fen" diet drug case;
Willie E. Gary, who won a $500 million judgment against the Loewen Group, which runs the world's largest funeral home chain;
Johnnie Cochran, a former legal asset of the Black Panthers, who engineered the race-based acquittal of O.J. Simpson (who was later found civilly liable for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman);
TransAfrica's Randall Robinson whose book The Debt could be considered RAG's manifesto.
According to Ogletree, "This country has never dealt with slavery" an assertion that would bring up short any American burdened with even a smattering of historical knowledge. Ogletree explains that "a political solution would be the most sensible but I don't have a lot of faith that's going to happen. So we need to look aggressively at the legal alternative." RAG is assessing the federal and state governments as potential targets of lawsuits, as well as various private entities such as the insurance companies that will come under scrutiny in California.
As noted above, one very promising strategy for the reparations lobby would be to put the screws to large corporate entities in order to extort their support for a federal settlement. However, a roundtable discussion among RAG attorneys published in the November 2000 issue of Harper's magazine suggests that the group might bring suits against private individuals whose ancestors included slave owners.
"I think you have two defendants here," commented Dennis Sweet during the Harper's discussion. "The government and private individuals." Willie Gary agreed. "There are huge, wealthy families in the South today that once owned a lot of slaves. You can trace all their wealth to the free labor of black folks. So when you identify the defendants, there are a vast number of individuals.... [Y]ou've got those families that owned slaves, and because of the sweat and suffering of the slaves those families are major players now in the United States. I think you just track them down. You have to go into North Carolina, South Carolina...." Added Sweet: "Mississippi, Alabama, all over."
But the geographic compass of such a search-and-litigate mission would not necessarily be confined to the South. During the discussion Alexander Pires mentioned the fact that the ancestors of John Brown, the notorious radical abolitionist, terrorist, and murderer, "made much of their money as slave traders in the late eighteenth century." It was because of this that Brown's "descendants underwrote Brown University enough to cover up the embarrassment of where he made his money." In like fashion, the descendants of Northern slave traders would be just as much a target of opportunity as those whose pedigree includes plantation owners. The objective, Gary points out, is to "branch out and pick up families in every state of the union" to serve as defendants.
The Legal Strategy
The next step in the RAG assault would be to find a representative "victim" or group of "victims" who would represent the "affected class" in a lawsuit. Obviously, wealthy black Americans such as Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and Bill Cosby wouldn't qualify. Nor, Sweet observes, would "self-hating black folks" that is, black Americans like Clarence Thomas who don't display the necessary racial and class "consciousness." Richard Scruggs was quick to point out that "you don't want to trot Mike Tyson out" as a symbolic victim, either. "You carefully pick [the plaintiffs]," he explained. "You interview a lot of people to pick somebody who's articulate, who's got an appealing personal case, and who is typical of the class that he's going to represent." Pires agreed: "All our famous plaintiffs are selected. Rosa Parks was selected."
While the search for suitably telegenic plaintiffs proceeds, the public must be softened up with a propaganda campaign. "[Y]ou definitely need a massive public-relations program," observes Gary. "You'd want your Denzel Washingtons and your Danny Glovers on board. You get the black athletes in the NBA to stand with you, you get [black athletes from] the NFL to stand with you. And then you might go to someone high in the ministry, because you want top-flight people Reverend Jesse Jackson, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, all these people to stand with you."
While Jackson, Mfume, and their ilk will do nothing to engender support from mainstream America, they are indeed adept at fomenting civic unrest which is part of the larger strategy as well. "If you've got a public outcry, a political movement behind it, while we're in the process of getting ready to file, I think that can affect the way a judge is going to rule," continues Gary. "It can make him not want to rule, it can make him hold and then perhaps Congress will step in and you can talk settlement."
Discussion moderator Jack Hitt suggested that RAG could employ a Marxist tactic called "heightening the contradictions" by filing numerous suits simultaneously, including several extravagantly radical claims that have no chance of victory, but will "change the way people think about this issue...." "So some of those filings would be to your best case what historians say Malcolm X was to Martin Luther King. Malcolm made King's once dicey demands look mainstream," observed Hitt. "That's not a bad strategy," replied Scruggs.
Scruggs noted that in addition to moving the cultural debate leftward, the strategy suggested by Hitt would have another benefit. "If we file a mess of cases against the states, isn't it likely that the state would implead the federal government?... A person charged with a crime can implead other defendants, saying, in effect, Hey, if I did it, this guy did it, too. We should share the punishment.'" This prospect enchanted Gary, as well: "The states could bring in the federal government and say, Hey, wait, we're not going to pick up this tab. We were doing what you all gave us the right to do, all this s*** started in Washington, D.C." "Neat," commented Sweet approvingly. "The states would try and prove the liability of the federal government for you."
The strategy of progressive extortion first by pressuring insurance companies and other corporate interests, then by targeting wealthy private families, and then by suing state governments, with Jesse Jackson's street canaille running rampant in major cities would create the illusion of public support for federal intervention. Washington would then be "forced" to soak the taxpayers for a series of new entitlements and administrative bureaucracies, as well as re-education and propaganda programs and, quite probably, another round of police-state measures to deal with the ensuing social turbulence.
In short, the reparations movement can be seen as yet another variation on the classic Marxist theme of "revolutionary parliamentarianism" pressure "from above" working in tandem with pressure "from below" to bring about the socialist transformation of our country.
Jay Parker, president of the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, observes: "In the 1950s and '60s, the reparations movement was manifested as the Republic of New Africa and led by the likes of Audley Queen Mother' Moore and the former fugitive Robert Williams." In 1961, Williams who was sought by the FBI for kidnapping a white couple in North Carolina fled to Communist Cuba, where he worked to foment racial revolution in the United States. Through his "Radio Free Dixie" broadcasts and his newsletter The Crusader, Williams urged black revolutionaries to kill policemen and other public officials.
Williams, along with "Black Nationalist" leader Malcolm X, described the black revolutionary movement including demands for slavery reparations as a war of "national liberation." "America is a colonial power," wrote Malcolm X in Two Speeches. "She has colonized 22 million Afro-Americans...." One measure of the lingering influence of the Black Nationalist movement can be found in the extent to which the media and academe portray black Americans as "African-Americans" who are part of a global "African Diaspora."
Black Nationalism itself is an outgrowth of the labors of Soviet agent Joseph Pogany, a Hungarian Communist general who was sent to the United States by Stalin in the 1920s. "The Black Belt' of the South ¸ constitutes virtually a colony within the body of the United States of America," wrote Pogany (under the pen name Joseph Pepper) in the 1928 essay American Negro Problems. "The Communist Party recognizes the tremendous revolutionary possibilities of the Negro people.... The Negro Communist should emphasize the establishment ¸ of a Negro Soviet Republic."
The concept of a "Negro Soviet Republic" within the United States was elaborated upon in a 1935 Communist Party pamphlet entitled The Negroes in a Soviet America. The envisioned "Republic of New Africa," according to the pamphlet, "would be certain to include such cities as Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia; Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina; Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah and Macon, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Memphis, Tennessee...."
The concept of a Negro Soviet has been embraced by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who was anointed a "mainstream" black leader as a result of his 1995 "Million Man March" in Washington. An essay entitled "What the Muslims Want" published in each edition of the Nation of Islam newspaper The Final Call declares: "We want our people in America whose parents or grandparents were descendants from slaves to be allowed to establish a separate state or territory of their own either on this continent or elsewhere." According to journalist Brett Decker, who covered N'COBRA's June 2000 conference on reparations in Washington, D.C., the coalition's membership "is divided over whether they should demand an independent black state within the geographic bounds of the United States." However, the group demands the release of "all political prisoners' jailed for activities while members of the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, or any other black separatist group," notes Decker.
Irrespective of geographic considerations, the reparations campaign like the black nationalist movement that spawned it is intended to convince black Americans that they are inescapably part of a racial collective to which the United States, its Constitution, and its culture are incurably alien. This point is made forcefully and repeatedly by Randall Robinson in The Debt. Robinson maintains that blacks have no chance "for significant group progress" in the United States, because "we have been largely overwhelmed by a majority culture that wronged us dramatically, emptied our memories, undermined our self-esteem, implanted us with palatable voices, and stripped us along the way of ¸ self-definition."
Robinson has nothing but hateful contempt for Thomas Jefferson (whom he traduces as the rapist of slave Sally Hemmings) and George Washington. "George Washington is not my ancestor, private or public," fulminates Robinson. "He owned my ancestors, abused them as chattel and willed them to his wife, Martha, upon his death." (In fact, Washington's will provided that his slaves would "receive their freedom" upon Martha's death, and that those among them who were old, infirm, or too young to provide for themselves "shall be comfortably clothed and fed by my heirs while they live.")
America's Founding Fathers, having inherited the institution of chattel slavery, created constitutional mechanisms intended to bring about the end of that practice. It is not incidental to Robinson's worldview (which he shares with the other leaders of the reparations movement) that even as he execrates America's Founding Fathers he exalts as "visionaries" Marxist tyrants such as Kwame Nkrumah, Fidel Castro, and Sam Nujoma dictators who enslaved entire populations.
The slavery reparations movement is the domestic element of a global campaign demanding that the developed nations of the West compensate Africa for their "unjust enrichment" through supposed exploitation of the continent. In April 1993, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) convened a conference on reparations. The OAU summit produced a declaration demanding that the international community "recognize that there is a unique and unprecedented moral debt owed to the African peoples which has yet to be paid the debt of compensation to the Africans as the most humiliated and exploited people of the last four centuries of modern history."
The Myth of Racial Guilt
Not all black Americans want to be labeled victims of slavery. The Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (B.O.N.D.) is just one organization that promotes self-reliance in the advancement of all Americans. B.O.N.D.'s founder and president, conservative black leader Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, is the author of From Rage to Responsibility, which advocates "a new culture of self-responsibility and moral renewal...."
Ermias Alemayehu, a spokesman for B.O.N.D., told The New American that "it is wrong to ask for reparations for past injustices," and that the organization is "totally against" the idea of compensating contemporary black Americans for the history of slavery. Those advocating reparations, said Alemayehu, are just "trying to get wealth and power." The B.O.N.D. spokesman was quick to point out that while RAG and its supporters are demanding justice from white America, they are ignoring the fact that the slave industry for which the United States is being condemned originated in Africa.
The demand for "reparations" to Africa, notes Harvard University history professor Stephan Thernstrom, is based upon a purely race-based assignment of guilt. The Africans who were sold into slavery, Thernstrom points out, "were not captured by European slave traders; they were captured and sold by their fellow Africans. If reparations were to be paid to atone for the crime of slavery, the first governments that should assume responsibility are the regimes in power in the various African states."
"Most Americans today are not the descendants of anyone who lived in the United States in the period in which slavery existed, much less the descendants of slave-owners," continues professor Thernstrom. "Most are here as a result of massive immigration since the Civil War. What should people who arrived from Germany or Sweden in the 1880s, Italy or Poland in the years before World War I, or from Mexico or Korea in the 1980s pay for the sins of Mississippi planters in the 1850s?"
Who would qualify to receive reparations? Approximately 11 percent of the black American population in 1860 was composed of free men and women, whose descendants wouldn't qualify for slave reparations. Neither would the descendants of the small number of pre-Civil War black slaveholders. "Do the remote descendants of free blacks and immigrants deserve a huge subsidy from today's American taxpayers?" asks Thernstrom. "What about all the African-Americans whose origins include both free and enslaved people? Do some people get 3/16th of the total reparation payment and others 9/16th? How many have compiled accurate family trees that would even make such fine distinctions?" Obviously, such questions could not be addressed without the imposition of Nuremberg-style racial laws that would scrutinize the pedigrees of Americans in search of "racial guilt" or "racial entitlement."
It must be understood that the true objective of the reparations movement is not necessarily to bring a huge settlement. "The issue here is not whether or not we can, or will, win reparations," admits Randall Robinson in The Debt. "The issue rather is whether we will fight for reparations, because we have decided for ourselves that they are our due." Robinson and his comrades aren't waging race war to extract reparations; rather, they are demanding reparations in order to foment race war.© Copyright 2001 American Opinion Publishing Incorporated